Monday 26th June 2017

Home » Featured Today » Currently Reading:

A Book Review… Man’s Metaphysical Dimension

February 16, 2017 Featured Today No Comments

By JUDE P. DOUGHERTY

Scruton, Roger. On Human Nature. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2017; 151 pp. Cloth, $22.95.

This book consists of three lectures that Roger Scruton gave as the Charles E. Test Memorial Lectures under the auspices of the James Madison Program at Princeton University in the fall of 2013. They follow his previously published The Soul of The World and draw upon and develop arguments first presented there. A fourth essay is added to the three lectures under the title “Sacred Obligations.”
The first lecture provides a profile of man as an animal, a description of the features that man has in common with other members of the animal kingdom. But wait; there is something about man that is unique to his species, something that cannot be accounted for in purely materialistic terms. Scruton calls this “man’s metaphysical dimension,” something that implies a nonmaterial component, but one that he does not examine in detail.
His target is Richard Dawkins and others who reduce man in purely mechanistic terms to nothing more than a self-replicating animal. In this context, Scruton enlists the aid of a number of his contemporaries as he defends his position, first against the Darwinians, and then against the thesis of Dawkins as presented in the latter’s The Selfish Gene. In arguing against Dawkins’ claim that natural selection can account for all the difficult facts presented by speech and human culture, Scruton finds some support for his analysis in the work of Noam Chomsky.
Scruton is particularly incensed by Dawkins’ attempt to explain goals and rational choices, including morality, in terms of genetic materials. “Morality,” Dawkins will say, “has no other demonstrable ultimate purpose than to keep human genetic material intact.”
To that, Scruton replies, “Human nature, once something to live up too, becomes something to live down to. Biological reductionism nurtures this ‘living down’ which is why people so readily fall for it. It makes cynicism respectable and degeneracy chic. It abolishes our kind and with it our kindness.”
Chapter 2 is devoted to a discussion of human relationships. “We are the kind of thing,” Scruton says, “that relates to members of our kind through interpersonal attitudes and through the self-predication of our own mental states.” The kind of thing that we are cannot be characterized merely in biological terms. Ever since Kant, it has been clear that I thoughts are fundamental to the life of the person. The moral life depends on something that may be called the “second person standpoint” — the standpoint of someone whose reasons and conduct are essentially addressed to others.
When I give another person my reason for action, I am assuming for myself the authority and competence to do that, and in so doing I also confer standing and competence on the other. By speaking in the first person singular, I can make statements about myself, answer questions, and engage in reasoning that bypasses the usual ways and normal methods of discovery.
I am not merely an individual in the way that Fido is a dog. I identify myself as an individual across time. I take responsibility for my past and make promises for the future.
Chapter 3 is devoted to a discussion of the moral life. Persons are moral beings, conscious of right and wrong. Any account of the moral life, Scruton suggests, must begin from the apparent tension that exists between our nature as free individuals and our membership in the communities on which our fulfillment depends. In speaking of the person, Scruton draws upon Boethius and Aquinas, but he is principally indebted to Kant.
The final chapter consists of random thoughts on what Scruton calls “sacred obligations.” The Roman sense of piety is certainly the first. Piety arises from the ontological predicament of the individual who comes into the world with debts to pay. Filial obligations and social obligations follow. The rituals of birth, marriage, and death call attention to those important features of human life. Moral thinking, Scruton finds, inculcates habits of respect and benevolence and guarantees general safety.
In his discussion of sexual morality, he calls attention to Aurel Kolnai’s defense of the Roman Catholic view of chastity, priesthood, and marriage.
In his extended critique of academic political philosophy, Scruton finds that it has its root in the Enlightenment’s conception of citizenship, an attitude that emerged with the social contract and the desire to replace inherited authority with popular choice as the principle of political legitimacy.
Much of what Scruton has to say has been said before in simpler terms, but that does not detract from the value of his critique of reductionist biology. Scruton’s literary erudition and charm grace his presentation throughout.
If the volume has any flaw it may be that Scruton takes too seriously the sophistry of many of his contemporaries and addresses positions that any man of common sense would throw out of court.

Share Button

2017 The Wanderer Printing Co.

Hey Democrats: You Might Win More Elections If You’d Stop Killing Your Voters in the Womb

Democrats keep puzzling about why they are losing so many elections, but they do not seem to want to hear the answer that so many people are giving: abortion. Pro-life advocates — Republican, Democrat, independent and otherwise – have been…Continue Reading

Only Pope Francis can end the ‘apostasy’ his words have caused: Italian monsignor

ROME, Italy, June 21, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) — Pope Francis could stem the “confusion and apostasy” now rampant in the Church among priests and bishops by “correcting” his own “ambiguous and erroneous words and acts,” said an Italian monsignor and former…Continue Reading

New Pontifical Academy of Life Appointee Supports Euthanasia by Starvation

An ethics study group for the Italian Jesuit magazine Aggiornamenti Sociali, headed by Fr. Maurizio Chiodi, a newly appointed member of the Pontifical Academy for Life and a theologian of the Northern Italian Theological Faculty of Milan, has joined Italian…Continue Reading

Planned Parenthood wants to have a center in Reading High School; you can help stop it

ACTION: Planned Parenthood does not belong in our schools. Contact the Reading School Board at this link. Planned Parenthood is anything but helpful for teenagers, with all the ways the abortion giant has corrupted and confused them through explicit sexual advice,…Continue Reading

Fireworks at U.S. Bishops’ meeting as Francis-appointed Cardinals oppose permanent religious liberty committee

INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana, June 15, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) – The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) voted 132 to 53 today to approve the establishment of a permanent Standing Committee for Religious Liberty. Five bishops abstained from voting. The USCCB formed the Ad Hoc…Continue Reading

What can priests practically do to combat the porn epidemic?

Washington D.C., Jun 14, 2017 / 02:59 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Online pornography is one of the fastest growing addictions in the United States, on par with cocaine and gambling. Once confined to the pages of a smuggled Playboy magazine, pornography…Continue Reading

Catholic community offers prayer, supplies for London fire victims

London, England, Jun 14, 2017 / 01:20 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Catholic bishops of Westminster offered their prayers and local parishes opened their doors to offer aid and supplies to those affected by a massive fire at an apartment complex…Continue Reading

Ohio tries again to ban abortions after heartbeat begins

COLUMBUS, Ohio, June 9, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) – On Tuesday, two Ohio representatives reintroduced legislation protecting babies with detectable heartbeats from abortion. Last year, Republican Gov. John Kasich vetoed the measure when it came to his desk. The human heart begins…Continue Reading

Abortion clinic loses fight to silence LifeSite, but plans emergency appeal

TORONTO, June 9, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) — LifeSiteNews won a victory in court today by successfully opposing a publication ban on the identities of abortionists targeting a pro-life activist. But the legal battle continues as the Crown in Ontario has signalled…Continue Reading

Incredible Story . . . Winner of ‘Romania’s Got Talent’ is a 14-year-old girl without arms and femurs

June 6, 2017 (Family News) — When she first showed up in front of the cameras at the live show, with her serene sweet face, she looked as a much smaller child. She is a short person because her legs…Continue Reading

Bring Back Christendom

By now you may have come across the controversy spun up over the weekend when Rep. Clay Higgins, the new congressman from Louisiana’s 3rd District, sent an outraged reaction to the London Bridge jihadist attacks over Facebook. The bulk of…Continue Reading

The Organization Every Parent Needs to Know About

Did you know there’s an organization of pediatricians and other child health professionals whose policies likely support your values as Catholic parents and grandparents? The American College of Pediatricians (not to be confused with the American Academy of Pediatrics) actually…Continue Reading

Untitled 5 Untitled 2

Attention Readers:

  Welcome to our website. Readers who are familiar with The Wanderer know we have been providing Catholic news and orthodox commentary for 150 years in our weekly print edition.


  Our daily version offers only some of what we publish weekly in print. To take advantage of everything The Wanderer publishes, we encourage you to su
bscribe to our flagship weekly print edition, which is mailed every Friday or, if you want to view it in its entirety online, you can subscribe to the E-edition, which is a replica of the print edition.
 
  Our daily edition includes: a selection of material from recent issues of our print edition, news stories updated daily from renowned news sources, access to archives from The Wanderer from the past 10 years, available at a minimum charge (this will be expanded as time goes on). Also: regularly updated features where we go back in time and highlight various columns and news items covered in The Wanderer over the past 150 years. And: a comments section in which your remarks are encouraged, both good and bad, including suggestions.
 
  We encourage you to become a daily visitor to our site. If you appreciate our site, tell your friends. As Catholics we must band together to rediscover our faith and share it with the world if we are to effectively counter a society whose moral culture seems to have no boundaries and a government whose rapidly extending reach threatens to extinguish the rights of people of faith to practice their religion (witness the HHS mandate). Now more than ever, vehicles like The Wanderer are needed for clarification and guidance on the issues of the day.

Catholic, conservative, orthodox, and loyal to the Magisterium have been this journal’s hallmarks for five generations. God willing, our message will continue well into this century and beyond.

Joseph Matt
President, The Wanderer Printing Co.

Untitled 1

Enter Comments Below

This Weeks Comments And Letters . . .

Culture Of Life 101 . . . “An Introduction To The Problem Of Euthanasia”

By BRIAN CLOWES Part 2 (Editor’s Note: Brian Clowes has been director of research and training at Human Life International since 1995. For an electronic copy of chapter 23 of The Facts of Life, a 150-page treatise on all of the aspects of euthanasia, e-mail him at bclowes@hli.org.) + + + We have covered the definitions of the varieties of…Continue Reading

Today . . .

Why Cardinal Sarah terrifies his critics

A growing crowd wants Cardinal Robert Sarah’s head on a platter. Open a liberal Catholic periodical and you are likely to find a call for the dismissal of the Guinean cardinal who heads the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship: “It’s past time for [Pope Francis] to replace Cardinal Sarah” (Maureen Fiedler, National Catholic Reporter); “New wine might be needed at the Congregation for Divine Worship” (Christopher Lamb, the Tablet); “Curia officials who refuse to get with…Continue Reading

Illinois Catholic bishop decrees no Holy Communion, funerals for same-sex couples

The bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Springfield, Ill., is calling on priests there to deny Holy Communion and even funeral rites to people in same-sex unions unless they show “some signs of repentance” for their relationships before death. The decree by Bishop Thomas Paprocki also said that people “living publicly” in same-sex marriages may not receive the sacrament of confirmation or be admitted to the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, a process by w

Trump’s Nationalism Is Consistent With Catholic Social Doctrine

Leading American bishops have complained about the “harshness” of Trump’s campaign rhetoric and called for an end to deportation of aliens until the “broken” system can be fixed. Yet, despite this opposition from the Church’s hierarchy, Trump won 52% of the Catholic vote (to Hillary’s 45%), a historic margin for a Republican. How to explain this contradiction? Real simple. The laity get it better than the bishops. Trump’s nationalism is fully consistent with Catholic social…Continue Reading

No More Excuses, It’s Time to Defund Planned Parenthood

As the healthcare bill makes its way through whatever the Senate is doing with it, one provision is absolutely non-negotiable: The bill needs to defund the nation’s largest abortion giant, Planned Parenthood. They committed 328,548 abortions last year, which is equal to one of every three abortions in the country. Just because the Hyde Amendment states that taxpayer monies cannot be used to directly fund abortion, it does not prohibit tax dollars from paying for…Continue Reading

Four Cardinals release letter asking to meet Pope about ‘confusion and disorientation’ in Church

fourcards

ROME, June 19, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) — Four Cardinals have publicly released their letter to the Pope from April 25, 2017 unsuccessfully asking him for a private audience to discuss “confusion and disorientation” within the Church after the publication of the Pope’s April 2016 Exhortation Amoris Laetitia. In the letter Cardinals lament the great division in the Church on basic morality as a result of the pope’s exhortation. “And so it is happening — how painful…Continue Reading

Advertisement(2)

Our Lady Of Fatima: The May Apparition

By FR. SEAN CONNOLLY (Editor’s Note: This is the fourth in a series of articles on the one hundredth anniversary of Our Lady’s apparitions at Fatima. Fr. Connolly is a priest of the Archdiocese of New York.) + + + 1917 was a tumultuous year that would forever change the face of the world. The…Continue Reading

Atheist Christian Haters Win In Court

NEW YORK — Catholic League President Bill Donohue commented June 20 on a First Amendment case that dealt a blow to religious liberty. The full text follows: + + + For 75 years, Bayview Park, in a Pensacola, Fla., neighborhood, has been home to a large cross. The 1941 wooden cross, erected by a New…Continue Reading

A Long History Of Leftist Hatred

By PATRICK J. BUCHANAN James T. Hodgkinson of Belleville, Ill., who aspired to end his life as a mass murderer of Republican congressmen, was a Donald Trump hater and a Bernie Sanders backer. Like many before him, Hodgkinson was a malevolent man of the hating and hard left. His planned atrocity failed because two Capitol…Continue Reading

An Act Against Secular Leftism’s Top Dogma: Climate Change

By SHAUN KENNEY (Editor’s Note: Shaun Kenney is a former executive director of American Life League, a former executive director of the Republican Party of Virginia, and an op-ed writer and ghostwriter for various publications and personalities in Washington, D.C.) + + + Finally, President Trump withdrew the United States of America from the Paris…Continue Reading

“Most Courageous” Parish Priest . . . Plans To Start Retired Life As “Hermit Monk” In Maui

By DEXTER DUGGAN A veteran clergyman described by an admirer as “the most courageous priest in our San Diego Diocese” warned at his pre-retirement party that although the priority of Christianity is saving souls, he was hearing more from prelates concerned about earthly matters than religious ones. Fr. Richard Perozich, sometimes involved in news events…Continue Reading

Advertisement

Our Catholic Faith (Section B of print edition)

Our Savior And Redeemer… The Ascension And Pentecost

By RAYMOND DE SOUZA, KM Those people who believe in the Lutheran myth of “sola Scriptura” have a big problem to solve. They cannot explain the fact that Jesus spent forty days with His apostles, teaching them, reminding them of what He had taught them before, and preparing them for their mission, but there is absolutely nothing written in the…Continue Reading

Acts Of The Penitent — Contrition

By DON FIER As we briefly surveyed the history of the sacrament of Penance last week, we saw that significant changes in its outward form took place over the course of the centuries. In her first years, the Church experienced remarkable growth despite facing great persecution — it was a time of many martyrs. “The early Christians,” explains Dr. Alan…Continue Reading

Catholic Replies

Q. I have heard it said that homosexual behavior is one of the sins that cry out to Heaven for vengeance. Is that true and, if so, what are the others? — T.S., Arizona. A. In Holy Scripture there are four sins in this category, so called because in each case the victims of these sins cried out to the…Continue Reading

Whoever Receives You Receives Me

By FR. ROBERT ALTIER Thirteenth Sunday In Ordinary Time (YR A) Readings: 2 Kings 4:8-11, 14-16a Romans 6:3-4, 8-12 Matt. 10:37-42 In the readings today we hear about our own dignity as Christian persons and also about the way we, as Christian people, are to treat others. We look first at the point of our own dignity. In the second…Continue Reading

The Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum . . . The Wanderer Interviews Fr. Kenneth Baker, SJ

By CHRISTOPHER MANION (Editor’s Note: The Wanderer first published this article on Summorum Pontificum on July 19, 2007, and we are reprinting it here in view of the upcoming ten-year anniversary of Pope Benedict’s landmark motu proprio, which allowed priests to say the Traditional Rite of the Mass without asking for permission. (This interview appeared in two parts; we will…Continue Reading

Catholic Heroes… Blessed Gennaro Maria Sarnelli

By CAROLE BRESLIN In the history of the Church saints have commonly lived at the same time and worked together for the Kingdom of God. Pope St. John Paul II and St. Teresa of Calcutta, St. John of Avila (of the Cross) and St. Teresa of Avila, and St. Alphonsus Maria Liguori and Blessed Gennaro Maria Sarnelli. Blessed Gennaro was…Continue Reading

Catholic Heroes… St. John Francis Regis

By CAROLE BRESLIN In the late 16th century, Calvinism began to make significant advances in the Catholic population of France. More and more Catholics left the faith, or simply stopped going to Mass and practicing their faith. Then God sent a man to the French who preached tirelessly and then spent hours in the confessional, helping the penitents return to…Continue Reading